The Boston Celtics have been in dire need of a rebounding big man that is capable of working the post and crashing the boards in order to give the team a strong interior threat. Rookie Jared Sullinger is beginning to develop into a more consistent contributor in the Celtics rotation and is beginning to help fill the need for a force in the paint.
Sullinger is averaging 5.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, .8 assists and .5 blocks in just under 19 minutes of playing time per game. These numbers don't completely jump off the page, but he is influencing every aspect of the game while he is on the floor.
Although the Celtics don't need Sullinger to put up big points, they have been in desperate need of a solid rebounder, and he is filling this role. Sullinger is currently the second-best rebounder on the team after Kevin Garnett and records the most offensive rebounds with 1.9 per game.
Every team needs a player that is willing to do the dirty work in the paint, and Sullinger provides that tough mentality as he often bodies up against bigger players with a high level of success. The fact that the 6'9" power forward is capable of pulling down rebounds against some of the tallest centers in the league is a great implication of his intensity and continual effort.
According to NBA.com Sullinger is posting a 9.3 efficiency rating through the early part of this season, which is the 10th-best efficiency rating of this year's rookies. Ranking in the top of rookies after being taken with the 21st overall pick shows that not only did most teams in the NBA undervalue Sullinger, but that he is developing into one of the steals of the draft.
In addition, Basketball-Reference reports that of all rotation players, Sullinger is the leader in offensive rating producing 111 points per 100 possessions for the C's. He is also only two points behind Kevin Garnett on defensive rating, allowing only 103 points per 100 possessions as the next-best Boston player.
Perhaps the most important sign that Sullinger is really developing is the trust that Doc Rivers appears to have in the rookie. Rookies rarely get playing time in Rivers' system, but Sullinger has found his way into the rotation and is continuing to find increased playing time as the season goes on.
In an interview with ESPN, Rivers told reporters that "Jared's a warrior. He's not going anywhere." Not only does Rivers respect Sullinger's style of play, but he essentially indicated that Sullinger will be a key piece for this team now and in the future.
Although he has developed into a strong role player, he is still in need of improvement with his fouls and shooting percentage. Sullinger is capable of averaging better than the 47.1 percent rate than he is currently posting, which he will likely improve on as he becomes more comfortable in Boston's offense.
Often rookies have a hard time getting fouls to fall their way in the NBA, and Sullinger knows the feeling all to well as he is averaging 3.1 fouls per game this season. He often does get over-aggressive on defense, leading to his opponents finding their way to the free-throw line. He will need to decrease his tendency to foul in order to remain on the court longer and take a bigger role with the Celtics.
Sullinger is proving to be one of the key players in Boston's rotation and perhaps the most important player in the paint, as Garnett is spending more time in the mid-range areas. He is working hard to come up with big plays and is using his high basketball IQ to take advantage of every situation. As Sullinger continues to grow, he will become an even more important contributor on this team, but for now Boston is lucky to have a player willing to leave everything on the court night in and night out.